It all started with a queasy, strange feeling as we entered Wal-Mart searching for post-Christmas bargains. I couldn’t explain why I didn’t feel well, or how I didn’t feel well, but the complaint was enough to cut our trip short. Normally, we wouldn’t have been so concerned about such slight discomfort. But, considering I was nine months pregnant and three days past my due date, my husband decided the promise of sundry deals wasn’t enough to chance an unexpected delivery in the office supplies aisle.
That evening began the beginning, but also the ending, of a unique journey. Nothing was normal about the path we had been on for more than a year. Our story began with an innocent comment about interests and passion. Not the physical kind, but the burning desire that fuels actions and drive. For us, it was journalism and photography, the union of creativity and purpose. At that time, I was preparing to start my final year of college and he saved lives. I burned with a need to make a difference, to hold the government accountable, to tell people’s stories. He burned to make photographs and spent every opportunity pursuing that dream. Iced tea brought us together. Refills spawned conversation. I mentioned journalism school. His interest piqued. He boasted his photographic exploits. I saw him with new eyes. We talked. We found kindred spirits. We fell in love.
Fast forward six months and we were seeking out the county judge to sign our marriage license so we could exchange vows later that day. The judge, a locally infamous morel hunter, had left ten minutes early on a Friday afternoon, the very afternoon we were racing five hours to apply for the document that would legitimize the commitment we had already made to each other. My handmade dress showed up late to the wedding. The substitute pastor, called in last minute because the minister we counseled with backed out earlier in the week due to a family crisis, chose to deliver a lengthy sermon as we stood together in front of the meager relatives who attended. The reception was no party, and I only had one bite of wedding cake. The following hours involved a wedding night spent with out-of-state family and an early morning jaunt to spend time with another side of the family, and then a quick trip back to our home in the next state. Stress materialized in harsh words and we returned to our regularly scheduled lives without time to enjoy and embrace our union.
We wanted children right away. With my husband aged six years more than I, he wanted to be a young dad who would enjoy his children’s youth. Three months later, he got his wish. I was pregnant. After an unpleasant visit to a preoccupied pediatrician and the reality of no health insurance slapped us, we decided to use a home-birth midwife from the Lend-a-Hand Center on Stinking Creek in eastern Knox County, Kentucky, about an hour from our house in Corbin.
So, as you see, there was nothing normal about our journey, and I didn’t expect that to change.
The morning after our Wal-Mart experience, I woke up in labor. The midwife seemed pretty lackadaisical about the whole situation. I wasn’t. When she finally arrived late in the afternoon, she realized she had forgotten necessary tools and had to return to the clinic. An hour away. That’s two hours until she would return. I panicked. She didn’t.
Dinnertime came and went and those holding vigil over my pain decided to order pizza. Despite their protests, I ate my fair share. No one dared utter a single “I told you so” when I threw up the whole mess as the harder pains started.
So the beginning of the beginning and the ending of one journey happened the next morning after about six hours of hard labor. That amazing, slimy little guy was put on my chest and my whole life changed. And then my heart stopped, or felt like it did, when he wouldn’t cry, when he wouldn’t breathe. It seemed like ages, but a minute later, after massage and diligent attention stimulated him, Tyler cried. And it was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard.
That was the beginning of the beginning. The ending of the beginning happened four months shy of five years later, when another baby struggled into the world. This time, home birth wasn’t an option, and we found ourselves camped out in a hospital to have delivery induced a week early. The doctor feared another week would cause both the baby and me distress because of his size.
Early the next morning, the Pitocin dripped in my IV and began a long, worrisome day. By evening, the doctor realized she had a problem: A baby who wouldn’t drop into the birth canal and whose heartbeat dropped with each quickening, harsh contraction. She explained that surgery was imminent, and a surgical team was waiting to cut the baby from my body. But one more push. A head. One. More. Push.
Zachary burst into this world, literally, knocking the doctor backward as she caught him. And cheers exploded down the hall. His first performance, and the audience went wild. Despite his dramatic entrance, he quietly acclimated to his new surroundings. He didn’t cry or scream, but lay there taking in the world.
The end of the beginning.
I tell you all this as a mother who recognizes that my greatest contribution to this world happened in those two moments, when those two tiny human beings took their first breaths and filled their lungs with air, changing their existences and mine with a simple, automatic reaction to stimuli. I will never do anything as great.
Fast forward twenty years.
What happens to a mother when her greatest feats are behind her? What happens when those unique individuals decide to have lives of their own? What happens when the proverbial nest is empty? What happens to me?
My life has been devoted to those two babies-turned-young-men. I strove to give them wings to fly in the direction of their dreams. I taught them to have dreams and to be different and to look at the world differently. They personify creative. They have deep passions to create music and to express themselves. They make me proud.
Now, what about me?
Several years ago, I saw into the future and realized that my children had every intention of leaving me. I recognized the flaws in my relationship with their father. I saw the wounds that come when you love deeply and completely, but begin to take each other for granted. I fought. He fought. In the end, we decided that we needed to find a way to get along, because the day would come when we would be alone together, when our sons would launch into their own lives and have little time for us.
Somehow, and it has taken time, we are in a good place. We had to find a way to remember what first attracted us to one another. We had to respect and trust all over again. We had to learn to be comfortable in our own skins before we could return to a harmonious state. We had to see ourselves as Linda and Rodney, not just Tyler and Zach’s parents. We had to see ourselves as partners and lovers, as friends and soulmates. He has learned to be more spontaneous, and I have learned to be more patient.
All of this brings me to the true reason for these words.
What do parents do when their children grow up and move out?
Some get divorced. That’s not an option here.
Some work until they die, never quite being fulfilled.
Some find thriving lives.
About a month ago, a coworker’s retelling of a conversation with her husband about moving to Florida and working at Disney World planted a seed that took root. My husband and I put some dreams and wishes on hold because we wanted the best for our children. Even if we didn’t have tons of money and offer countless opportunities for them, we worked tirelessly to give them what they needed. We loved doing that. It wasn’t a sacrifice, because we wanted to devote our lives to raising them right.
But then the seed sprouted, and I finally asked my husband a question that seemed random, but only to someone who hadn’t already been mulling over the idea.
“What if we pick someplace and move there for a year?”
What would stop us?
In the past, we pursued careers. Now, we work jobs.
If I’m not going to work in a field of my training and experience, what keeps me from working as an office worker anywhere? Or maybe I could — we both could — seek jobs in our fields.
But then, I also consider the life that comes from having roots. What if we were able to live in this house and make it truly ours? What if we made this our home base and still traveled and visited all the places in the world we want to see and experience?
When children decide to have their own lives, we parents must then decide what to do with the years we have left. They want us to allow them to be adults and make their own decisions. We deserve the same opportunities.
In upcoming months, that is exactly what my husband and I will be deciding.
I call it The Nest Makeover.
If you found yourself at this junction, what would you do? If you could navigate a different life or embrace the one you’re living, which would you choose?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. And I’ll share mine in future posts.